Study Guide

Les Misérables

by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Paris

*Paris. Capital of France in whose mean—and mainly unknown—neighborhoods most of the novel is set. In setting most of his action in these neighborhoods, Hugo emphasizes how a great majority of honest and hard-working people (“les misérables”) live in overcrowded and dilapidated conditions. His criticism does not originate in class warfare but rather out of a desire to help improve their unbearable situation. Many streets mentioned in the novel were destroyed or absorbed in other wider arteries during various urban renewals, especially under the Second Empire in the 1850’s and 1860’s—and later. Some simply have changed names to new appellations: For example, rue Plumet has become rue Oudinot.

Rue Plumet house

Rue Plumet house. Jean Valjean and Cosette’s new rented home in a good neighborhood. The furnished townhouse, with its solidly enclosed garden, is not only vast and almost elegant, it has a secret passageway offering escape if necessary. Since they want to be unnoticed, Valjean and Cosette never use the entrance on rue Plumet, but use a side door to a back street. After discovering her address, however, Marius visits the sixteen-year-old girl, and both confess their love for each other as they kiss. The untended garden, which symbolizes the naïveté and free-spiritedness of Cosette, is now transformed into a wondrous place, alive with sheltering trees and perfuming flowers, that welcomes their innocent “idyll.”

*Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire

*Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire (rew day feey-doo-kal-VEHR). Street in upper-class district. Mr. Gillenormand (Marius’s grandfather) owns a mansion and private garden at No. 6. Beautifully furnished and appointed, it is the residence of a wealthy bourgeois who appreciates fine art and good books but who is reactionary in his politics. The mansion is so large that it can house seven people quite easily along with Marius’s office. (Valjean, though urged to move in, refuses.)

“Bowels of Leviathan.”

“Bowels of Leviathan.” Hugo’s metaphor for the sewers of Paris. Beside their utilitarian purpose, the underground sewers hide Marius, who is being rescued by Valjean. They must wade through long tunnels filled with sleaze and slime, as the latter intelligently follows the mazelike topographical pattern to secure their safe exit. In comparing the sewers to a Dantesque hell, Hugo stresses the subterranean presence of vice and of moral decadence in society and, thus, the need to redeem one’s soul (never an easy task, witness Valjean’s several struggles with his conscience) through goodness toward others and self-sacrifice.

*Rue de la Chanvrerie

*Rue de la Chanvrerie (rew deh lah shan-vrer-ee). Area of anti-Louis-Philippe insurrection (June 5-6, 1832). This Parisian street in the St. Denis district is the setting for the battle between the well-armed king’s soldiers and the poorly supplied democratic rebels fighting behind makeshift barricades. No wonder so many of them die (gloriously) and Marius is gravely wounded.

*Montreuil-sur-mer

*Montreuil-sur-mer (mon-TROEY-sur-mehr). Town in northern France. Jean Valjean (alias Monsieur Madeleine) runs a glass bead factory that gives employment to many, including Fantine. Its distant location from Toulon, the naval port city on the Mediterranean and home of prison ships, also offers him a better chance to hide from the police. However, his past eventually catches up with him and he is sent back to Toulon, from where he later escapes.

*Digne

*Digne (deen). Small city in southern France. Instead of a luxurious episcopal palace, Bishop Myriel’s house is small and modest and well reflects the prelate’s own modesty. Moreover, even the name of the city (digne means “worthy”) underlines the charity, generosity, and saintliness of Monsignor Bienvenu.

*Waterloo

*Waterloo. Town in Belgium that was the site of Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous final defeat on June 18, 1815. Hugo shows a deep understanding and knowledge of both the strategy and tactics employed by the French and Anglo-Prussian armies. Thénardier allegedly performed an unselfish deed by rescuing Colonel Pontmercy during the battle.

*Rue de l’Homme-Armé

*Rue de l’Homme-Armé (rew deh luh-MAR-may). Another apartment (at No. 7) used by Valjean and Cosette. Since it is to be a hideaway/refuge for the escaped convict, it contains only the furnishings necessary for him and his young charge.

Gorbeau hovel

Gorbeau hovel (GOR-boh). One of Jean Valjean and Cosette’s numerous homes as they flee across Paris; later the Thénardiers and Marius will live there. As a typical tenement, it acts as a microcosm of lower-class French society, from criminals, young orphans, and prisoners on the run to neglected adolescents and impoverished students.

*Montfermeil

*Montfermeil (mon-fer-MAYL). Town east of Paris, where the Thénardiers operate an unsavory and ramshackle inn. Cosette, a foster-child in their care and Cinderella-like heroine, lives there, too. Valjean buries his treasure in the forest on the outskirts of this town.

Petit-Picpus convent

Petit-Picpus convent (peh-tee peek-PUH). Estate inhabited by nuns. Although given a specific address (62, Petite rue Picpus), this fictional religious community, containing large gardens, a school, and a nunnery, represents a haven for Valjean and Cosette. For five years he is employed as gardener and general handyman, while she attends its school.

*Père-Lachaise

*Père-Lachaise (pehr lah-SHAYZ). Famous cemetery in eastern Paris. Valjean is buried here away from the plots of the rich and powerful, his unkempt and nameless tombstone further accenting the anonymous character of this tragic Everyman.

*Notre-Dame Bridge

*Notre-Dame Bridge. Bridge across the Seine River, which is here at its most tortuous and fast-flowing. A so-called deranged Javert, unable to comprehend Valjean’s merciful generosity, purposely chooses this site to commit suicide.

*Luxembourg Gardens

*Luxembourg Gardens. Parisian park with beautiful grounds and a promenade. It is here that Marius and Cosette see each other for the first time and fall in love from afar.

Café Musain

Café Musain (kah-FAY mew-SAYN). Latin-Quarter drinking establishment whose back room serves as a meeting place for the ABC secret society.

Les Misérables Historical Context

Romanticism
Romanticism was an intellectual and artistic movement that swept Europe and the United States in the late-eighteenth...

(The entire section is 866 words.)

Les Misérables Quizzes

Fantine: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How is a convict discriminated against after being released from prison?

2. What was Jean’s crime? Why was he in prison so long?

3. What is Jean’s moral dilemma the night he stays with the bishop?

4. What does the bishop do when Jean steals his silver?

5. Who is Petit Gervais?

6. Why does Fantine leave her child with the Thénardiers?

7. How does the author characterize the Thénardiers?

8. How does Jean make a fortune in M——sur M——?

9. How does Jean’s rescue of Fauchelevant put him at risk?

10. Why does Jean risk revealing his true identity when Father Champmathieu is arrested?...

(The entire section is 388 words.)

Cosette: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Jean return to prison? What is he convicted of and what is his sentence?

2. How does Jean escape?

3. How does Jean fulfill a promise to Fantine?

4. What does Cosette give Jean that he has never had before?

5. In the first section of the book, the author compares Fantine to a lark. What bird images does he use in the second section?

6. Why do people refer to Jean as the “beggar who gives alms”?

7. Why does Jean abruptly leave Gorbeau House?

8. What is Jean’s greatest fear in being recaptured?

9. How does Jean escape from Javert and his men?

10. How do Jean and Fauchelevant...

(The entire section is 351 words.)

Marius: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What kind of man is M. Gillenormand?

2. What were the highlights of Pontmercy’s military career?

3. Why does Marius live with his grandfather instead of his father?

4. What instruction does Pontmercy leave Marius when he dies?

5. How does the information Monsieur Mabeuf gives Marius change his mind about his father and about politics?

6. When Marius falls in love, how does he inadvertently change her life?

7. What lies do the Jondrettes tell to gain sympathy and assistance from M. Leblanc and his daughter?

8. What is Jondrette’s real identity, and why does he hate M. Leblanc?

9. Why does Marius not act...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Saint Denis: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Jean rent the house in the Rue Plumet?

2. Why does Jean decide to leave the safety of the convent?

3. What events prompt Jean to decide to leave the country?

4. How does Eponine manipulate both Cosette and Marius?

5. To what degree are the men in the barricade outnumbered? What is the inevitable outcome of the battle?

6. Who is the spy in the barricade, and what is his fate?

7. How does Jean read the message Cosette sends to Marius even before Marius receives it?

8. How does Jean intercept the message Marius sends Cosette from the barricade and what does he do when he reads it?

9. What does Marius...

(The entire section is 487 words.)

Jean Valjean: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does the relationship between Gavroche and Marius compare to the relationship between Pontmercy and Thénardier?

2. How does M. Gillerormand react to Cosette and Marius’ marriage?

3. What is the final outcome of the battle at the barricade?

4. What obstacles does Jean encounter as he carries Marius through the sewers of Paris?

5. Why does Javert commit suicide?

6. Why does Jean pretend to have an injury when Cosette gets married?

7. Why is Jean despondent after Cosette’s wedding?

8. What evidence does Thénardier produce to prove that he is telling Marius the truth?

9. How does Marius resolve his...

(The entire section is 434 words.)